18 December 2006
The Archbishop of Canterbury's Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2's Wogan
"Just to complicate Christmas preparations a bit more this year, I’ll be off to Bethlehem on Wednesday with some of my colleagues. We’re planning to be there for a few days just before Christmas, and – with luck – we’ll be back in time for Christmas Eve.
"Like most people, I guess, when I hear the name ‘Bethlehem’ I think warm and comforting thoughts. It’s somehow a warm and comforting word. And most people of my generation anyway think of ‘O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie’…
"And what will we see when we get there this week? We’ll see what every visitor sees, what many who’ve never been there would love to see – a place made holy, made warm, you could say, by centuries of prayer and thanksgiving. And I know that we’ll have kindness and welcome from the local people and a chance to worship in the great ancient church of the Nativity.
"Some of it’s going to be a lot harder, though. We’re visiting Christians who suffer terrible economic hardship and daily anxiety about their homes and their security. We’ll be alongside people, Christians, Jews and Muslims, whose lives have been wrecked in different ways by terrorism and by the sense that they’re hated and feared by each other. We’ll be with people who are really desperate to find some sort of hope, some way out of the cycle of violence and insecurity.
"And seeing all that simply reminds you that this was also the kind of world into which Jesus was born – because the twisting and turning of human hearts isn’t all that different today from what it was 2,000 years ago. God’s love came among us at Christians just because we need help from beyond ourselves if we’re going to find hope.
"So when you hear ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ sung in the next few days – and you will, because it’s one of the all-time favourites – think of us and all the pilgrims who want to travel to Bethlehem; think of the people who’ll be there to greet us. Pray for everyone in Bethlehem and all of the Holy Land who’s longing for hope and new beginnings. And you might even slip in a prayer that we all get home in time for the Christmas Eve carol services."